Valencia drew clubkids from all over Europe in the early nineties. Maybe it still does. They didn’t come for the oranges or the paella valenciana. They were there for bacalao; techno music in Spanish slang. Clubs were almacenes de bacalao; salt-cod warehouses. They opened Thursday evenings, and stayed open all the way through to Tuesday morning, each hosting 10,000 Eurokids in leather pants. You could get chocolate con churros to fuel your dancing in the morning.
I was schlumpy, penniless and twenty, and I was out of place in these clubs. They were thirty miles outside the city, and I would fret about how to get home. Once, my Danish roommate picked a guy up just so we’d be able to get a ride back to town. It made me feel grubby.
Three of us shared a dingy flat in the Gothic quarter. The heavy doorknocker downstairs was positioned way above our heads; put there for 16th century gentlemen on horseback. Vanessa was my other roommate and the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen. Imagine Jade Jagger with an overbite and a Brazilian sway. In Valencia she waited tables, trying to save enough money to buy a car dealership back in Belo Horizonte. Her boyfriend owned the biggest club in town. I tiptoed around their drug parties, wide-eyed and uncertain. My beer-sodden student life hadn’t prepared me for their excesses, and I was cranky at how little attention they paid me. Vanessa mangled my name, producing ‘Gerbiline’, which sounded like a sinister lubricant.
Vanessa haunted the mailbox for news of her youngest sister, who lived in Belo Horizonte. At nineteen, she had married a much older man, and they had three kids. They shrieked and fought, Brazilian-style. One night, just after Vanessa moved to Spain, the sister got so worked up in a fit of jealousy that she called the police to report the cocaine in his possession. Unfortunately, she timed it just as the government announced a crackdown on hard drugs, and her husband was sentenced to ten years in jail. The whole family was distraught. She was reduced to visiting him three times a day, kids on her hips, bringing him meals. Vanessa siphoned money from her big-shot Spanish boyfriend to support them.
The British soap operas I grew up with are depressing and downmarket. Ugly people, ugly marriages. I didn’t realize until the saga of Vanessa’s sister that Latin American culebrones, with their histrionic glamour, were equivalent in their gritty social realism.